All photo's are Copyright of Scott Swalling or the tagged Photographer. (Background photo Scott Swalling Photography).

About Me:

24Hr MTBike racer and general bike rider, climber and mountaineer. Good coffee drinker and cake eater (any cake, seriously, don't leave your cake laying around). Also, I like to try new things that challenge me.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Morvelo Battle Royale

It has been a little while since a post, well expect a little flurry in the next few weeks. Call it catch-up, lets start now.

Saturday 6th Dec saw the Morvelo gang put on (what we hope is the first of many) Battle Royales.  What is Battle Royale?  Take a indoor oval circuit like a Cycle Speedway add in roller derby, 4x and eliminator rules, well when I say rules, one or two rules. A suitable dollop of speed, skill, tactics and aggression.  Mix it with food, beers, coffee, cowbells and spectators and you have one of the craziest, most fun events I have every been apart of.  Oh, you could ride any type of bike you like.  I would leave the Pinarello or Venge at home if I was you.

The scene was the old Circus Street Markets in Brighton, Sam P and I arrived to meet Aidan "Hippy" and the venue was great.  A dull market building with bright graffiti and wide mixed of riders, bikes and spectators creating a great atmosphere already.

 Sam and Aidan ready.

A couple of fun laps and the racing would soon start, names drawn out a hat for 44 teams and several rounds to get through to reach the Quarters. The first few races saw a few spills, plenty of speed and that was the main tactic to start the first round.

Speed and low light, means some poor pics, Sorry!

We had agreed that anything better than going out in the first round would be great. After all we were a downhiller/dirtjumper, enduro/xc racer and a 24hr/xc racer.  All out speed not the really the key attribute for two of us.  Oh, I was on a BMX, something I haven't raced or ridden in anger for about 25 years.

I was taking a Belgium approach to things...

others went with something less subtle.

We progressed round after round, with sound tactics, speed and maybe a little aggression. There was more than enough sneaking into other rounds and crashes were many, but few retirements.  Soon we would be into the Quarters.

We would face the Gravity Grannies, great outfits and aggressive from the start.  The first corner saw the Grannies attack straight away, with just about everyone getting a knocker.  Let's just say that got us fired up, entering the 3rd corner I got a heavy knock, exiting I returned the gesture tenfold, sending the Granny into the barrier.  That was that, the Granny was OK, but his bike was not. The remaining two in his team, fought hard to try to cause similar to us, but we stayed up right and toyed with them until the finish.

The Quarters is where it really kick-off, big hits, tactics, and all out speed. It was brilliant to watch and the crowd loved it, this could be the future of crowd entertainment and as a racer. It was great, maybe a chance for us all to get the frustrations out from the stress of long seasons.  Amongst all this, everyone was good hearted and congratulated each other after each race.

Into the Semis and we had to face three races to go through, after the first one we would lose one team and race two ahead for the next then back to three for the last one (the finals would follow the same format).

We were up against the 90 NDA Nerds, and it was good fast and pretty clean racing, and they pipped us over two races. I missed leveling the heat in the second race by a couple of inches.

Onto the 3/4 final against the Misfits, the other team that had proven to be tactical, fast and aggressive.  The first race started and end with a massive pile up at the start, I zipped away with one of the Misfits, but Aidan was a bit too banged up to get back in the race. The next heat was two ahead again and was a great battle all the way to the line and an inch or two in it again.

We were done, but had managed 4th out of 44 and way beyond where we expected to be at the end of the day.  Not bad for a rag tag bunch that had come together only on Friday.  As we celebrated the final race of the day kicked off with Pivot Boompods giving the 90 NDA Nerds a lesson in all out speed, playing to their strengths, to take the overall win.

What a brilliant day, great event.  Well organised, great location and there should be more of it.  Word of warning, if they do more and you enter. Bring a tough bike, get your sprinting legs sorted and sharpen those elbows.

We rode for RideforMichael to raise awareness, share his story and keep the positive vibes flowing.


Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Specialized FatBot Expert - Review

Fatbike - mountain bike designed with tyres between 3-4.6 inches, for riding on snow, sand, mud and also quite excellent on loose rock.  They look a bit mental and get far too much attention.

But there are two way more important facts: they are damn fun, maybe the most fun you can have with your pants on and are extremely versatile (maybe the next big thing in all mountain biking, with some of the geometries appearing at present and weights going down).

So after lots of research and very little riding of fat bikes I asked if they could help out and Chris the owner was very happy to help me out with the purchase of the Specialized Fatboy Expert and after a little wait due to some wheel production issues (issues all resolved) it arrived.

The factory spec is not too bad at all, but I had plans, so off came all the SRAM replaced with Shimano and it went 1x10 with a Wolf Tooth Components non-drop 32t chain ring, I added carbon bars, a gravity dropper I had laying around, Shimano M530 pedals and my preferred Ezi Grips with Hope Lock Dr caps.

What remained, is the brilliant frame and fork combination, extremely light and robust Specialized wheels, Specialized 4.6" Ground Control tyres, E13 crank and BB, seat stem and the Shimano OEM brakes.  The bike pictured below is my build (minus the seat post change).

She does grab the eye, so be prepared for a lot of attention.

So the first thing you notice about the Fatboy Expert is the size of those tyres and wheels.  They are wide and look a bit on the heavy side, surprisingly they are not too bad at all, although I haven't weighed this build the whole build must be under 28lb.  Not too bad when you consider all that rubber.

Specialized had the wheels and hubs commissioned, so they carry the Specialized name.  They have quite an impressive cutout in the rims (90mm wide) that are laced to the Specilaized branded hub with sealed bearings and Hi Lo flange, so far after over 3 months use in all sorts of conditions, seem very solid and reliable.  Attached to the rim is the 4.6" Ground Control, Spesh made an very good call here, these tyres at this size on these wheels are an amazing combination and the wheels use stock (but obviously wider for the rear) QRs, maybe a future version could have bolt through front and rear, but if I am honest for what I plan to use mine for I could see quite a number of issues with that change, not least it being a massive pain in the butt in freezing conditions.

Positive, responsive and more grip than you will ever need, that is what the massive 4.6" Ground Controls give you.  I am still trying to find the limit and in doing so going faster and faster, which is testing the brakes and my nerve.  They have a 120TPI count which maps closely to Spesh's 2Bliss tyre construction and should tubeless well (stay tuned for more on that).  The tyres provide loads of float on soft sand, amazing grip on hard pack and transition between the two seamlessly, even at speed. They chew through rocky terrain up or down, like it is a towpath all at a moderate 12psi inflation.

 Bags fall of grip and float

When they say fat, with a 190mm rear hub they mean FAT.  I was interested that this might make the frame bit flexible, but if it does once it is all locked together with the wheel in place you don't notice it, the power goes straight to the ground.

The brakes are a Shimano OEM BR-505 front and rear, with a 180mm rotor at the front and a 160mm at the rear stopping the Fatboy and my 82 kilo from speed extremely well.  I was a bit dubious at first as I am a Hope fan boy, but these brakes provide loads of modulation and control, and really stop you fast when you need them to.  The decision to put a 180mm on the front is a good one as you do seem to motor downhill on this bike.

The drive train it comes with has SRAM OEM 2 and 10 speed grip shift, which I replaced with XT (1x10) and the X0 rear mech with XT also.  The X7 front mech was just removed.  All this is just personal preference as I find Shimano more reliable. The Praxis Works chain rings I replaced with a 104 32t Wolf Tooth Components non-drop as they just work so well and the red one looks pretty.  Attached to the eThirteen cranks you get a very positive and robust drive train.  Which has stood up to quite a battering in my local hills and The Lakes District.

The eThirteen PF30 100mm, means that the overall BB width is kept at a modest 130 when measured cup outer to cut outer and therefore there is not a massive difference between it and my other bikes, but the first few rides will feel odd and I suggest you keep the saddle a bit lower than normal.  I have read a few differing reviews about the PF30s but I have to say that mine have not started squeaking or imploding and feel very smooth after quite a bit of use.
I wont bore you with details of bars, stems saddle etc.. I will just give you a quick list:
  • EA70 Monkey Bar;
  • Specialized 3D forged stem (OEM);
  • Specialized BG Henge (OEM) and my preferred saddle anyway;
  • Gravity Dropper seat post;
  • Shimano M530 pedals.
So finally, the frame and fork.  The frame is Specialized M4 aluminum, new apparently.  Well either way, they have got the geometry pretty much bang on and the weight is pretty impressive in the light direction.  This is fronted with a pretty striking set of Specialized FACT carbon full monocoque forks, giving a huge 5.0" tire clearance. Maybe a sign of tyre sizes to come?

The wide elliptic down tube provides loads of stiffness and reduces weight, as the M4 aluminum is clearly light.

The FACT Carbon forks are very sexy and certainly responsive.  With such a wide tyre, you really don't need much give in the fork, so the FACT is a great choice.

So what does it ride like, firstly I will say, when I know my next ride is on this bike I start smiling before I even pick it off the rack.  If there is one thing no-one can argue about is Specialized know how to R&D and then produce a bike.  This is no exception, in fact, they have probably pipped the specialist fat bike builders here, dare I say it, and I tend to ride niche or near enough to.

It is damn fun, you first notice that it is actually quite light to ride, it is nimble, more than you expect.  The frame and fork are impressively stiff as are the wheels, with those big tyres giving exceptional grip, control and comfort.  So much grip and control, that I have set new PB's on segments the first time I ride them, that I have ridden on All Mountain bikes a few times.

The bike responds well when pushed hard and is easy to ride when you are just cruising.  I find it as nimble in the air as it is on the ground and finds it transitions well from one sort of terrain and trail to another.

Those big old tyres and heavy tubes, seem to only really affect you when getting going or on a very long relatively steep climbs. On flat twisty trails the Fatboy Expert buzzes along and will surprise more than a few other riders, but if the surface is hard pack, it is going to hum like a tractor on the tarmac/bitumen.  So be prepared and watch yourself with those tyres when commuting to your trail, they really don't like high speeds on the road.

If I was pushed to give the Fatboy Expert some true ratings they would be as follows, out of 5:

Looks: 5
OEM Spec: 3.5
Ride: 4.5 (ignoring the climbing, I would give it 5)
Value for money: 4
Smile Factor: 5+

I really am impressed and this bike has been the one I have spent most time on since I got it.

Too much fun. :)

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Spoon to a gun fight

So if guns are for show and knives for a pro, what the hell is a spoon any good for in a fight? Alan Rickman, would claim it hurts more. Who though?

Sunday saw the 2014 running of the Gorrick 100, an annual race that is more challenge than a race, yeah right.  But it is great fun, the course always pretty good fun and all the category contestants appear to have fun.

Having felt off all week and not that interested in riding.  A Thursday night climbing session being the only exercise that seemed to lighten my ambivalence to training in the week, I was really struggling with the idea of racing. So I hatched a silly plan that I knew would put a smile on my face and be some good exposure for (you have to do your bit).  I decided to race the Fatboy in the Gorrick, a bad idea if there every wise one with the lack of mud, snow and/or sand.

So arriving at the race village, I got registered, chatted to a few folk as ya do, grabbed a spare tube off Big Al (who had come up a bit earlier than he need, top man and congrats on the 5 lap win!) and then I got myself sorted and readied the fatbike.

This was never going to be easy and frankly I still felt at odds with riding let alone racing, but I was on the start line and we were off.  A funny thing happens inside your head when you start a race, you take off like a loon and forget about most things, squeezing past riders on the first tight turn, I thought I would have a crack at seeing how well I can do.  But I was under no illusions, I was on a damn fatbike (the spoon from the Lock Stock-ish quote above) whilst everyone else was on 29er XC machines (the guns, no knives).

Surprisingly though as I pressed on, I made up places, scared people as the 4.6" tyres rumbled up behind them, took off camber lines in the inside of turns to overtake because I could due loads of fat tyre traction and generally had fun.  Lap five would prove to be the one that caused me issues and I decided to reign in a bit.  At this point a fell into a bit of company and shared some work with the eventual female winner Amanda Brooks, a fellow antipodean, but she soon rode me off her wheel and went on to the win. Congrats!

I rolled across the line in a surprising 19th on the tractor that is the Fatboy.  I was broken, the spoon hurt me more than someone else Alan. But as feeling returned, so did the fact that fatbikes are damn cool, but more importantly they are stupid fun.  Cycleworks thanks for getting the Fatboy in for me it really is too much fun. :)

Gorrick team, as always a great course and well organised event. To Chris Noble and Big Al, congrats on great rides and thanks for the heckling, always appreciated. ;)

Thanks to the usual suspect, Weldtite, WTC, Cycleworks and Alpkit.

Friday, 2 May 2014

K-Lite Bikepacker Pro

Right, if you are not into geekie bike focussed stuff or don't wish to be enlightened look away now.  Otherwise read on.

So my riding friends are probably fed up with me blabbering on about K-Lite technology, but I guess I have been excited about.  A while back I decided I was fed up with batteries, charging them, rides being dictated by them and having to conserve light when on a long ride or carry an extra battery.

So I started looking at the dynamo light options, weighing up the technology and costs, weight and output and even getting my head around the fact that I will have cables running all over my bikes again.  Something I had enjoyed not enduring for sometime now.

So with all my research in hand, I settled on K-Lite.  The tech stood up to my limited knowledge, the price seemed right, the units themselves tough and durable and the best bit, they are a small company which means they are more agile and innovative.  What's not to like there?  From what I have learned as well that Kerry, provides pretty damn fine customer service to a global customer base, from Australia, his adopted home from New Zealand.  So I am supporting the Aussie-New Zealander alliance as well.

So decision made and I wen ahead and ordered my Bikepacker Pro 1000/600lm light set. I even got to choose K-Lite orange as the colour.  Soon enough the lights arrived as shown below and I was immediately impressed with the size, weight and power. Not to mention the quality of light.

What's in the pack?
The Bikepacker Pro arrives with:
- Light, obviously,
- control box which provides the switch between 1000/600lm, On/Off and of course the standlite,
- an inline switch to be able to charge USB battery sets and compatible products when you are not using the light,
- associated cables (when your order you choose between SP/Shimano and Schimdt SON);
- a bar or riser stem mount (choose when you order or email K-Lite and I am sure they will help you out more),
- you even get a few zips tires to get you started.

 The control unit with On/Off and 1000/600lm switch and built in standlite.
Switches are extremely water proof as has been tested extensively.

One of the other points I like about K-Lite was there reuse policy.  K-Lite use a 3D printer to print up the control units, mounts, switch mounts (available for other options) and mount spacers.  They do their level best to use recycled plastics to do this. So combining this with the fact that they are dynamo lights, they are pretty damn environmentally friendly

As you can see below the light is quite small, yet omits a great deal of light and it is quality light a well. I have to admit when the light arrived I was a little concerned about the coverage and quality of light.  I can safely say after the first ride I was riding as quickly in the dark on technical trails with the 1000lm from the K-Lite as I did with any of my more powerful bright white battery powered lights.  Even in heavy fog, I found switching the light to 600lm mode and turning of my helmet light, the light was still excellent. The light is not a bright white light as many of the leading battery powered ones are and it doesn't need to be as bright as the light seems more natural.  By this I mean that it lets me pick up the detail on the ground better, it doesn't flatten the detail.  Which is pretty handy when riding on technical terrain.

Light pictured on the stem riser mount, which allows you to mount the light centrally.

The light housing is machined from a piece of aluminum and the heat sync directly contacts the housing so it does get a tiny bit warm, but it means you get the optimum performance from the light as the circuits can run at full capacity as the heat sync cools rapidly. So you get the option (if you choose to switch down) of true 1000/600lm when you are traveling at 15.7kph or higher (if memory serves on the specs).  The light naturally deeps on a curve as you speed decreases on climbs or when coming to a stop.  But I have found there is more than enough light when climbing slowly and the standlite when stop suitably bright for the riders use and certainly provides visibility to others if you are on the road for example.

Cables, like I said, I don't really like cables, but I made the sacrifice as I knew dynamo was the way forward for me. The cables K-Lite provide are suitable to get the maximum out of your hubs for running your lights and charging stuff. They are connected with XT60 connectors and constructed to be pretty damn waterproof.  I haven't note if K-Lite provide an IP standard themselves, but they plugs and cables have been well and truly tested by me and I have had no issues.

As mentioned there is even an inline switch to allow for charging compatible USB products and battery sets such as the tiny and brilliant Sinewave and KEMO. Then you can charge your phone, iPod etc... from the battery unit.

So the Bikepaker Pro is very versatile in what it does and how you configure it, so as a 24hr racer, a newbie bikepacker and perennial night time trainer, for me it is perfect. The only problem you have is how to mount it, where is it most out the way for you, yet the switches are accessible.  Well the picture above displays my preferred mounting configuration and allows for a clean set of bars for adding Alpkits stems cell pouches, fuel pod or Kanga, battery packs, GPS or even strapping gels and sports bars to the bars when you are going for that unsupported recorded 24hr ride.

Cons: What could I fault about the Bikepacker Pro light, well only one thing and that would be the same for any dynamo light.  It is not super stupid bright.

Pros: Reread above, come on folks. ;) It is small, light, tough, versatile and the light quality is perfect.  How tough? Well the light is so perfect that I found myself going way too fast down a slightly dodgy descent a little while back, I made a mistake and hit the ground very hard. The light unit was still shining bright when I got back to my feet.  It is very tough.

If you are after a dynamo light, I can certainly recommend these over the other leading brands, the build quality and price, just make them a market leader in my eyes.

The future of endurance riding is bright! 

Monday, 21 April 2014

Margam Madness 2014

I have heard of Margam Madness through the organiser Gareth Hayes, it is a newish 4 and 8 hour event on one of the most brutal, technical and brilliant courses I have ridden in the UK (it is a lot like racing some of the Adelaide, Mt Buller and Mt Beauty XC courses), trail riding with an XC format basically. My type of thing, although there should be a caveat there, something like the below.

"My type of thing, when I haven't spent two weeks recovering from hurling myself down a flint strewn chalk path at between 40-50kph."  But not to be one to make excuses, I put in what training/recovery I could because I was genuinely excited about these course.  It was a course for the complete rider, strong, technical, brave and fast up hill.  Something like XC use to be and again is becoming, thankfully!

So I packed the van and headed down, the day before, after sitting in some Easter traffic for a few hours I arrived, chatted to some familiar faces, did a lap to see what the course was like and sent Chris N the good news, it is brutal and technical.

 Bike prepped, big bugger hill we ascended each lap (from the left hand side)

But with the above it was also brilliant, fun and had amazing views.  The climbs where technical, loose and pain inducing.  Then you would tip over the top and head down either a sweeping twisty easy downhill track/natural trail or the infamous Black XC section (my favourite section) the section that in the race I somehow found a way passed to crashed riders and bikes. "Clive, I went for the gap, this time it was there"  :)

So race day arrived, it was sunny and I had slept very little, but hey, that has happened before, no matter.  I was in the Single Speed Cat, which would only have to riders, and I know Dave from the Gorricks. But as with everything, there is you Cat and then there is overall, I always push for good finishes in both.

So as more friends and familiar races arrived I prepared myself, stretch the known troublesome and bruised parts of my body and rolled to the start line.

Soon we were off and chaos would ensue at the first forest section, but from here things would sort themselves out and the racing was in general clean, fun and laid back, as was the feel with the whole event (this is a good thing), but that did not mean the racing wasn't fast.

I lapped consistently and in the lead for a few laps, but wasn't finding my normal power and fluidity on the climbs, so I dialed things back a touch, we had a long way to go. The race progress for another 1hr or so and I was joined by the other single speeder Dave, for a little bit.  But on the second flattest part of the course he opened a small gap, I closed this easily on the descent as he was running rigid forks (hats off to him) on the next small climb though, I could hold his wheel, in fact I had to jump off and run as I had no power to turn the pedals, but felt fine.

Over the next lap he would open a lead of about 5 minutes, but my problem wasn't getting any better of worse. As a couple of the Open guys lapped me, George Budd being the first and yelled encouragement, then would focus on taking it easy and hoping to recover, but I didn't. At the top of the hill before the Black XC trail, I stopped, chatted to the marshal and yelled encouragement at all those that passed, including Al and Chris.

Soon I duly finished my lap and knocked it on the head.  Being only two of us, I was assured a podium, but maybe not hugely proud of it.  But at least I did get out there and try.  I moved to to a support role for Chris after I had finished and cheerleader for Al, Jules and George, or was that heckler?  They can confirm which.  I also encourage Dave to keep turning that single speed as he decided to do one more lap even after I confirmed with him I was out (I am nice that way). :)

As the hours ticked by George more than confirmed 1st in Open, Chris' consistency and good riding gave him 2nd in Open, Al, cleaned up in the Vets and Jules had a solid ride (but not without its technical issues) for 4th in Vets.  I did indeed get 2nd in the 2 man Single Speed field.

 A cheeky 2nd place
(Photo: Al Fairbairn)

What an event though and as mentioned above, what an amazing course. Gareth and his team did and awesome job and I will be back next year, better prepared, rather than coming of an accident recovery, as I am guessing that is rubbish prep.

Congrats to everyone that lasted as long as they could, as the course was tough, but we all know what to expect next year, so lets train harder, work on our skills and lets hope that more XC courses follow this design.

Thanks Cycleworks, Weldtite, Wolf Tooth and Alpkit

Margam Madness 2015, get yourself there.

Aborted Southdowns Way at night.

The evening of Saturday 5th April Nick K and I sat on a train heading to Eastbourne to meet Chris and Al.  The plan to ride the Southdowns Way over night. The weather forecast had been looking increasingly challenging, but undeterred we had all headed down.

Cockpit for the evening

We met Chris and Al at Eastbourne station and headed off for our adventure. Nick and I had ridden the SDW single speed previously without nay issues. Chris and Al are both super strong and AL being on a Fatbike, just really evened things up a bit (not much).

Off the tarmac we started the first climb, relatively easily and we all chattered away as the climb meandered up to the top of the first descent.

 On the way up the first climb

Whilst it was not currently raining it had been and it was a bit foggy.  We started descending and at about 8km's into the ride, about half way down the first descent, I went down. I had been slowing down to alter my line for a better one and the front wheel washed.  I don't recall much about the actual crash apart from the moment if was in the air longer enough to realise I was about to hit head first and I managed to tuck my arms in (I had already rag dolled a few times by the this point I am told).

Once everything stopped I slowly rolled over, patted myself down, sat up, by which time the guys had arrived to help and I was checked over.  Heavily bruised cut up and very lucky thanks to my helmet, I somehow managed to continue on.  According to the guys the crash was massive and they feared I was going to be badly hurt. Saved by the helmet and the same greasy surface that had bought me down, I was extremely lucky.

Soon we continued on and not long after, the rain started, the wind got worse and the SDW and weather was about to throw a lot at us. We struggled up some wet climbs, walked some others, we fixed numerous punctures in the wet fog and wind as we went.

The punctures kept occurring in the most exposed positions, and everyone was feeling a bit fed up. But we pressed on.  However, soon there would be a bit of a sense of humor failure from us all as yet another puncture struck for Chris as the wind howled ruthlessly at us. Nick and I decided to start walking up the next hill to keep warm and managed to find some shelter.  Al and Chris, arrived walking, after some time.  Chris' stick on patches weren't adhering, so I gave him some Red Devils as I knew these stuck to anything rubber.  But putting the tube back in, Chris pinched it again.

Although we had some shelter it was still damn windy and colder than we expected and that had been forecast. So we continued slowly to the YHA (one of the tap stops) and hid in the day room, whilst Chris fixed all his punctures.

We had traveled 65kms in about 5 1/2 hrs, much slowly than we expected or liked.  Previously, Nick and I had ridden the whole 162kms in 9 1/2hrs.  With all us feeling cold and myself starting to feel sore, it was time to knock it on the head.  At the next bit of road, it was time to pick the best route home for us and head off.  Nick and I headed directly for Guildford. Chris and Al, for Petersfield and then Winchester, the original goal. But we would all travel by road now.  I also, made the call to Nik, to be picked up as everything was starting to hurt.

As Nick and I slowly got closer to Guildford, I started to struggle to turn the pedals, due to the pain in my right hip and left ankle and slowly fell behind.  However, in time Nik appeared in the van and a warm and comfy lift home was welcomed.

At home on closer inspection, my injuries where actually pretty bad and as I write this two weeks late, my ankle and hip still plague me a bit and I am guessing caused me some issues at the Margam Madness (see race report).

I was bruised, cuts and battered, pretty much tip to toe on my right side.  My left knew and ankle had been sprained and bruised and my neck was starting to get sore from the impact.  Surprisingly the bike was entirely fine, and I had only trashed a jersey and an arm warmer.  Although, my helmet was trashed, two deep slices from the flint on the track, and several breaks in the other places, it was clear that the helmet had done maybe more than keep my out of hospital, maybe a lot more?

So the SDW, will I go back.  Off course, the SDW is a special ride, even if you are never far from a farmhouse or village and at night when there is no fog, you can see the lights on the coast and inland.  It is a special place to ride.  It is this that help me pick myself up of the ground and keep going and if the weather wasn't so poor I might have made it to the end again.  But rest assured I will be back.

Thanks to Nick, Al and Chris for picking me up and checking me over and I am sure, for keeping an eye on me for the rest of the ride that we completed. Thanks gents!

Nik, sorry for the early morning call.  But you know it only happens when it has gone Pete Tong in a massive way.

(Sorry there are no more pictures, it was just too damn foggy)

Monday, 14 April 2014

WTC long term review

Some time back I promise the guys at Wolf Tooth Components a long term review, if you're not into bikes or bike gear freak, look away now.

Back in June 2013 I took delivery of my first WTC chain rings, 32t 104 BCD (one picture below), only a month before a 24hr race.  I mounted these as soon as I had them in my hands as I was completely over chain guides, the noise, the faff and the lack of reliability, unless you went for a free-ride style device.  Plus they always look rubbish on an XC bike.

Running a single non-drop ring like the WTC one however looks great! As above. Is a whole lot quieter than the alternative and the WTC ones work a treat.

So as mentioned I installed the first two WTC chain rings in June 2013, since then between them they have done close to 3500kms off road in some very grim conditions for far too many of those kilometres.  The area I live in, in the UK is a mixed of sand, clay, soil and chalk.  The sand is obviously nasty to any drive train and those who know chalk, know it turns into a gritty paste when wet and gets every where.  So it does its fair share of damage as well, so to see that after around 2000kms (there has been a bias towards one bike with a WTC fitted) with a fair majority done in the conditions mentioned above, that I will soon need a new chain ring.  Speaks volumes about the hardiest of these rings.  As with everything lightweight, you will lose some usage life, but the WTC rings have lasted longer than the Rhental rings I use to run.

So do they every drop the chain? No, I have tried, trust me I have.  At present I am running 32t in the following configuration. 1x10 on my 29er hard tail pictured above and my fat bike.  I immediately changed to WTC ring before I even rode the fat bike, due to the reliability and no fuss.  I also have a single speed configured with a 32t/18t and I am running the chain a little slacker than how I use to run my Renthal rings.  However, this means a little less wear and the chain still stays in place even on some of the roughest terrain.

The chain rings are more than light weight and durable enough, to be used for both training and racing, in all conditions.  Although they can be a bit noisy when wet sand gets in the mix, they do tend to run very quite in all other conditions, which certainly can't be said about chain devices and some other chain rings.

 Simple design that works.
Although the snow flake chain ring is pretty fancy.

Wolf Tooth keep the design on all the different chain rings they make simple and very functional.  The change rings come in a range of direct mount options SRAM, S-WORKS and a range of BCDs (that will even suit you CX bike) and colours. They have had so much success that the small Minnesotan firm, has been expanding it range to include GC 42t and 40t (coming soon) cogs for Shimano and SRAM, has a bash guard, chain ring bolts and a truing tool (which also happens to be a bottle opener).

Without trying to sound like a broken record or a salesmen, I have to say I have been very impressed with what a small firm has been able to produce and the way they keep expanding their product line with the same care and precision I have seen in the several rings I have in use at present.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A quick trip to The Peak

The other weekend I headed up to Claire and Ant, for a spot of grit action.  It had been a very long time since I had been on the grit and long time since I had climbed any rock in anger.  So I had not expectations.

On the Saturday at High Neb in pretty good conditions I soloed a few routes whilst Claire and Ant, climbed together. After a little Mike joined us and in pairs we started climbing a bit harder.  Whilst I managed Jeepers Creepers and another HVS to the right of The Logic book. Ant made short work of Quietus and then after some yoyoing he also got King Kong clean.

Not a bad day at all considering.  Routine service at The Travelers Rest for a feed and few beers in the evening catching up with friends and then it was time to zip up the sleeping bag.

Sunday we head to Curbar to the Apollo and Moon buttress sectors, with a few things in mind, but the weather was a bit warmer so route plans changed. Once again Claire and Ant jumped on a few routes, Claire starting with a certainly harder than Severe, but climbed it is good style. I went off and soloed a few little routes including a great route called Twin Crack done in the HVS style.

However, soon I was feeling a little wobbly, so I eased off ate and drunk and then, spotted/belayed Ant on Black Nix Wall, a nails slabby E1.  This is about the point things went a bit crap, on one attempt Any popped of low before the gear and I did my best to pull him away from a small boulder.  However he clipped this with his left ankle and gave it a good knock.  Although he did have a couple more attempts before sacking it off.

Next I bit off more than I could chew on a E2 called Soyuz, running out of steam due to bugger all climbing lately I soon popped off and took a decent lob.  Another attempt saw the same scenario and that was me done with routes for the day.

During my failed attempts Brian had turned up and I offered the rope to him and he made short work of the route and Ant on a sore ankle followed easily too.

For the rest of the day I joined Brian bouldering and even managed a couple of thin strong problems.

Despite being a bit rubbish on Sunday, it was a pretty good weekend and has given me some motivation to get back on the rock.  Now life just needs to give me a few openings to do so.

A few pics from the weekend are below.

 Ant take a rest on Quietus before the assault

Up he goes

 In the thick of it

Claire on the more than tricky Severe

First attempt on Soyuz, oops!
(Photo: Claire D)

Second attempt started stylish, ended the same way.
(Photo: Claire D)

Brian showing me how it's done on Soyuz
(Photo: Claire D)

Monday, 24 March 2014

Battle on the Beach - the race

Saturday 15th March, Nik and I packed the van, picked up Phil M and his fat bike. Swung past Shaggy and Mel's house to pick up a loan fatbike for me and headed to Pembrey Country Park in Camarthenshire.

After a few hours of driving and a slight detour to the golf club, we arrived at the country park and the event village, the sun was still shinning bright.  After say "Hi" to a few familiar faces we pitched camp, registered (at which point Dan and Verity arrived), got our crap together and headed out for a recce loop of the course.

 Personalised plate, always a nice touch.

 Fatbikes ready to go. Phil's tyres looking mint.

Heading out with Nik, Dan and Phil, I was the only one without a light (not normal for me, but this was meant to be a day race right). As we pottered around the course chatting and looking at the great scenery we knew the course was going to provide a great race.  Soon the light started to go and some ninja riding saw me return with the others to the campsite.  Some food, some beer (pro diet), a good chat and a visit to the unusually quiet onsite bar and it was bed time.

Race day arrived and the sun remained, which was great as the course did have some massive puddles (see below). Also, it was going to be nice to race in the sun for the first time in a number of races.  There was a lot of milling around as I had very little to do compared to a 24hr race, so I enjoyed the sun, chatted to the others and poked and prodded the fatbike.

Puddle of Doom

Soon enough we would be lining up, but here began my indecision. My first proper ride on a fatbike was the night before. I had no idea how fast, hard and long I could push the fatbike around a course?  So I mad a choice to not get at the front of the grid which I normally would do.  In hindsight, I could push the fatbike pretty damn quick and starting where I did meant that as the race started, I was working my way through the field from damn near the back.

Hitting the beach I flew across the soft sand as I knew I would passed the high water line on the harder sand and group formed that was working well together into the headwind on the 3.5km stretch of beach.  We could see 2 large groups in front and the bottle neck of the ramp off the beach we would soon be behind.  Valuable time lost here on the leaders and the fight back started.

In the single track and sand climbs the fatbike excelled and accelerated, every segment I passed still more riders, getting stuck behind slow CX riders on the twist trails and others slowly carrying their bikes up tight single track climbs.  But with every opportunity I would slip past another one or two riders. Nabbing another fatbike here and there.

This would be the routine for the last two laps, including the long drag on the beach.  Although this would see me get in a group, get on the front for my bit wave the next rider through, no one would come through so I would drop the group so as to remove their advantage (no wheel sucking today gents).

 Dropping a group on the beach

The laps played out the same and I pressed on, a couple of interesting overtaking lines, getting the fatbike sideways a few times and soon the finish line was in sight.  Crossing the line, I could help but do so with a smile, this smile had been there on most of the track other than the beach.  So many others were beaming big smiles as well.

I congratulated the Fatbike Cat winner, George, soon found Dan and congratulated him on second in the Fatbike Cat, I finished 8th fatbike (pretty happy with that). Phil soon arrived back with a smile on his face and Nik, quite happy that she had got some great shots (she did!).

What can I say, one of the most enjoyable races I have every done, the weather was great and Matt and the crew from ACycling did a great job with the organisation, the course and making it a fun event.  Even the idea and detail in the trophies make this a stand out event on the race calendar and I will certainly be back.  Good work to Howies and so many others getting behind a new event with such gusto.

Massive thanks to Shaggy at Automatic Cycles (give him a follow of twitter) for the loan fatbike and for Phil arranging it.

Thanks to Nik for getting some great pics.
And as always to:
Cycleworks - fueling me and keeping the wheels turning on my bikes.
Weldtite - for keeping things lube and corrosion free.
and, Alpkit for keeping me warm.

Watch out for a little vid of the race action from the rider perspective. :)

Friday, 14 March 2014

Battle on The Beach

Yay, its the Friday before the first every (to my best knowledge) bike beach race in the Uk.  Is everyone excited, it would appear so.

This was the race I hoped to race my new fatbike in, but alas, it is struggling to leave home. But lets leave that for now, it will be here soon enough.

So with the fatbike category being the one I am keen to race, enter Phil M (can ride any thing with two wheels anywhere with uber style) and Shaggy (aka John Ross, bike builder and all round nice guy) and I have a lone fatbike from Shaggy, Thanks a bunch!

So it is game on! The Open cat will be a pretty damn cool affair with pros from Belgium and The Netherlands making the trip. But looking at the Fatbike cat, the pointy end of this will a tough fight.

It looks like Matt Page and A Cycling have found a great venue and made a great course, so lets hope for sun, good racing and beer and skittles.

Oh, it may well be the UK Fatbike Champs as well. ;)

Will post report sometime next week!

Monday, 24 February 2014

More Cairngorms

So Sunday after some hideous weather avoiding faff, Dan and I took a long walk into Corie T'Sneachda to get a feel for how things might shape up for Monday.

After some post holing and wet soft snow walking we arrived at the Corie floor.  We looked at some roots, took note of conditions, considered and easy route. But in the end thought better of it.

On Monday with less wind, dry and cold conditions Dan and I made our way back into a busy Corie T'Sneacdha and towards the base on The Seam. With many other teams on the buttress it would prove to be a very social affair. Dan and I climbed Short Circuit after a change of mind of route choice half way up. Short Circuit proved to be a great choice of route.

Once at the top we headed for the summit plateau then decided to take a long ridge walk all the way back to the car, taking in the occasional view and enjoying the mountains.

Last day for me tomorrow, but it has been worth the rushed and late decision.

Last day to come tomorrow, playing in the mountains.

Sunday, 23 February 2014


A short notice and short trip to the Cairngorms this weekend for 4 days, started after an overnight train ride, yesterday.

With minimum faff I was on the mountain and skinning my way to the Cairgorm summit, with only one silly, but timely mishap. Picked up and slammed back down by the wind, I should have had my axe out, but dug a ski edge in calmly and stopped the slide an axe would have been much quicker.  Sensible toute choice meant there was no danger anyway.

After fighting the high winds for a bit longer, I arrived at the summit as the sun came out. Perfect timing, after some pics abd enjoying the view it was down time.

After negotiating the rock hard wind formed moguls on the summit plateau, the skiing became more free flowing and the wind died down. So i enjoyed the descent and sunshine.

Today (Sunday), it is wet, warm and damn windy. Most likely a cafe day with a walk in and recce later as things settle.

At is Scottish winter after all. :)

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Brass Monkeys - Rnd 4

26th Jan, saw the last of the ACU/Gorrick Brass Monkeys Rnd for the series.  Due to work, weather, life in general and concentrating on building core strength to set my year up I had not been on the bike much, but hoped for continued improve.  In short that is what I got.

Moments before the start it started to rain and it would do this up until a few minutes after I finished, challenging shall we say, as was the course, but apart from one hill that got to slippery for a single speed it remained very rideable, well done to ACU/Gorrick for an well planned course.

The race and weather would be brutal and there would be many retirements, crashes a plenty and more than a bit of sideways action :)  I mechanical forced a short stop after lap 2, but with it fixed I continued and it didn't plague me again.

Riding through the rain, slop and mud, squeezing past riders as I could nabbing many as they struggled on the sharp climbs, things seemed to go well.  In the closing k's of the last lap, the legs finally felt a bit heavy, but I found that my lower back was feeling strong enough continue to drive my legs and my pace didn't ease too much apart from getting caught in some traffic.  Try as I might I could not find the extra speed to slip past the Start/Finish under the 4hr mark for a cheeky extra lap.

However, finishing 10th in Vet 4hrs, was another improvement and has certainly continued to keep me motivated for the year ahead.

Special thanks to Wolf Tooth Components and Weldtite, keeping the single speed running smooth in some grim conditions.

Alpkit, thanks for keeping me warm before and after the race.

Cycleworks, there might be a full service coming your way. Ta  ;)

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Thank you and welcome

Last year I had some great support by sponsors:

Wolf Tooth Components
and, Cervo Rosso.

A massive thanks to you all and I look forward to working with you in 2014.  I truly hope that I added value for you all over the past year and hope to do the same again this year. :)

As I start 2014 I also get to introduce K-Lite as a new sponsor for 2014.  K-Lite based in Australia are a small dynamo lighting outfit with a great set of ethics and innovation.  I have been researching dynamo lighting systems since a conversation with Rob Dean sometime back and it is a bit of a mine field, but there are also several companies making great products.

But, K-Lite make a great looking product that has some great reviews, the technology stands up and their ethics are great.  Being a smaller company they will be more innovative moving forward also.  In fact I noticed this to already be the case, they really do have very open minds.  With this in mind and wanting to make the move to dynamo system, I contacted them and Kerry has been fantastic in response and I look forward to working with him and K-Lite in the future.

Batteries not included, will I didn't want them anyway. :)

Lets start 2014

So Rnd 3 of the Brass Monkeys done and an improvement.

Whats next? Well Rnd 4 of the Brass Monkeys.

I also, fancy some ice climbing somewhere and maybe some late winter early spring Peak District climbing sometime.  That would be a nice start to the year.

The garage is pretty much all set to be a pain cave, come workshop and even sometimes a garage.  So training should be conducted all year around and with no real excuse.  Also, means Nik will have the house to herself, she is stoked. ;)

I have also already entered several races:

A Cycling - Battle on the Beach.
Wildcat Gear - Two Ton 'O Gravel, gravel race/ITT/event rather than race.
Bontrager Twenyfour12 of course, it is just the best race of the year.

I am very likely to enter a few other, but more on that later.

There is certainly a plan to have more fun and do some more fun stuff, so some more UK based bike packing is on the cards too and maybe a trip back to the Dolomites with Dan, who knows.

All I can say is I am excited about this year and apparently Nik has a god feeling about it.

ACU/Gorrick Brass Monkeys Rnd 1, 2 and 3

After crashing and trashing my back in the Gorrick Torq in your Saddle 12:12 in August, I hadn't done a lot on the bike. I was tired, sore and a bit fed up.

But I duly entered the Brass Monkey winter series (Army Cycling Union and Gorrick).  Each year I look forward to this, but on the start line for the 1st Round I felt weak and uninterested in racing, but I still got on with things, well the best I could with my back feeling sore before evening starting.

Long story short it didn't go well and my back increased in pain and soon I was struggling to pedal let alone race and so I pulled the pin in pain and limped back to the van.  It was good to see the other Cycleworks team members and friends do really well.

Back to the osteo, back twisted, crunch and put right and a great deal of strength and stretching exercises issued and I was told to climb more (can't complain about that).  Whilst I started to do this a week later I threw myself and road bike down the road quite hard and once the bruising came out the next morning I could bare walk for a day or two, so I had a stay of rehab for an extra few days. Damn it!

I managed two rides before the 2nd Rnd of the Brass Monkeys and surprising managed to ride into 17th on the day, after some wheel issues and ensuring I took things comfortably.

Soon Rnd 3 was upon us after the Christmas and New Year season and two days of stomach bug made it hard enough to function as a human, let alone train.  So this race would be handle purely by a years accumulation of training and stubbornness.  In some very heavy conditions that a fatbike may well have be a better option I managed to ride into 13th, but not before have some loose chain issues and then some getting stuck behind a hundred+ 2hr racers on a lengthy bit of single track (it did hone my overtaking skills though).

So I am happy with one thing mainly with the above, I am improving again, building strength and have learnt how to managed the back if it does flare up.  However, that is becoming less of an issue, Yay!

Rnd 4 is not far off and I hope to get some more training in and be better prepared so I can see more improvement.  I have set most of my cycling goals for this year, so seeing improvement this early in the year would be a positive.

Fingers crossed.


Ok it has been a while since my last blog, so lets do a super quick round up of 2013 both climbing an cycling.

Firstly, my climbing over 2013 was a little quiet with only a few trips away and nothing outstanding climbed, other than the trip to the Dolomites with Dan.  However, it is fair to say that when I did get away I was generally at my limit, which is always nice to be able to do when you haven't trained or climbed much. So not a bad year in all and has given me some focus for 2014.  Probably nothing hugely exciting lined up, but things will progress.

Cycling, well after 2012 it couldn't get any worse.  Starting the year without having a serious back injury was certainly better.  But burning the candle both ends for at least 3 months kicked my arse a bit and this showed in the first few races.

But things improved, with an 8th at Twentyfour12, 3rd at the ACU/Gorrick Are You Tough Enough and a 17th in the 2nd Rnd of the Gorrick Brass Monkeys after a double injury month (must stay upright more often).

There were a number of Top 20's but these really served to frustrate me, but now motivate me for 2014.

A big thanks to:
Wolf Tooth Components
and Cervo Rosso

For your support throughout the year, always nice to work with down to earth, honest and fun people.  I hope I can provide better results and still the same level of feedback and product testing and promotion, as I have done through 2013 in 2014.

A big thanks to Nik, Dan and others stepping in for Nik or joining me on trips as much of this would never happen without you all.

Strangely, the high-lights of the year are not the 2 best results, but the biking trip to Bormio with some of the CW crew, Nik and Chris and the Dolomites climbing trip with Dan (we plan to head back).

All-in-all a pretty good year and have got to me some great people and have some real laughs.

All the best for 2104.